The Circle Group’s Ramadan Retreats are an opportunity for spiritual rejuvenation and clarification, through practice, of one’s understanding of Islam and Tasawwuf in daily life. A schedule of suhbat, prayer, recitation, and meditation uplifted our souls and increased our piety and our understanding.
All audio dars from the Retreat, as well as the Eid al Fitr Khutbah, are now available under ‘Suhbat with the Shaykh.’ Video and pdf files will be available soon.
Held on the lush, 80-acre facility of the World Community in rural Virginia, the retreat provided a venue to seek the blessings of the month of Ramadan away from the distractions of daily life. Community meals provided as well as housing for families and separate housing for men and for women. To contact us via email to be included in next year’s announcements for Ramadhan Retreat.
Other activities included: Qur’an recitation, muraqabah, suhbat and dhikr Allah.
Videos of the talks from prior retreats are available through our CG Video Channel playlist.
The World Community® is a not-for-profit religious organization, registered with the IRS under code 501(c)3. Organizations within The World Community® include The Circle Group®, responsible for publications, and the World Community Education Center®, a school for grades K-12. Located in Bedford, VA, 4 hours southwest of Washington, D.C., 2 hour north of Raleigh, NC.
“Everything Allah (swt) has created apparently has two aspects, the Dhahir (outer) and the Batin (inner). But in fact, the inner and the outer are really the same, it is our perception that makes us think that they are different. Allah (swt) is ONE, AHAD. Look at the human body, outwardly it appears one way, while inwardly there are other “worlds.” The actions of the body are totally different than the activities going on within the body. Within our body there are hidden systems so alien to us that we would shudder to think we are hosting them, yet without their activity, we could not live.”
Allahumma salle ‘ala sayeddina Muhammed al fatih oghliq wa-al Hatim limaa-sabaq naser al haqq bil haqq wa-al haadi ila siratiqa-l-mustaqeem, wa ala alehi wa sahbehi haqq qadrihi wa miqdarihi al adheem.
O Allah shower your blessings upon our master Muhammad, The Opener of what has been closed and the seal of what has passed, the Champion of Truth by the Truth, and the Guide to Your straight path, and on his family and his companions with the equivalent to the greatness due to his exalted status.
Everything Allah (swt) has created apparently has two aspects, the Dhahir (outer) and the Batin (inner). But in fact, the inner and the outer are really the same, it is our perception that makes us think that they are different. Allah (swt) is ONE, ahad. Look at the human body, outwardly it appears one way, while inwardly there are other “worlds.” The actions of the body are totally different than the activities going on within the body. Within our body there are hidden systems so alien to us that we would shudder to think we are hosting them, yet without their activity, we could not live.
We make a distinction between the inner and the outer, a distinction made in Qur’an when it says:
He is the Outwardly Manifest and the Inwardly Hidden. [57:3]
But we should not forget that the dhahir and the batin are two parts of a singularity; a dynamic whole we call Allah (swt,) Unity unbounded and ever extending.
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said:
“O Allah, You are adh-Dhahir and there is nothing above You, and You are al-Batin and there is nothing beneath You.”
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, also said: “Allah is eternally existent and nothing else is.”
Imam al-Bayhaqiyy elucidated the meaning of this Hadith in his book ‘Al-I’tiqad’ (The Creed), saying: “This indicates that eternally nothing existed other than Allah; no water, no ‘Arsh (Throne), and no other creation; they are all classified as other than Allah.”
So, for the purpose of this dars I will refer to the Dhahir and Batin but I ask you to think of it as two elements of One. We can see that Islam doesn’t separate the inner from the outer; it is a total integrative system. This is reflected in the Dhahir, as emphasis on the community as a whole through repetitious patterns, such as of prayer in Jama’t, to underscore the inter-connected and inter-dependent relationship between ‘believers.’ While each member of the community is significantly different in the outer, we are uniquely similar in the physical system.
The systemic harmony that is inherent in this Creation, must be sought after consciously and sincerely, if we are to Understand the nearness of Allah:
Huwa ma’akum ‘ayna ma kuntum
He is with you, wherever you are [57:4]
Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid gives suhbat
To see the systemic harmony, the nearness of Allah, is the life challenge for one who is truly a humane human being; a seeker after knowledge and truth, a developer of character; not one motivated out of greed or power or fame or name. As we look at societies today, that deep yearning to see and understand seems to have been abandoned by the vast majority of people; who see this world as the only reality and, at best, see the next (if they believe at all in the hereafter) as merely the reward for existing, with little regard to the quality or principles governing goodness and evil.
In the comings and goings of daily life we forget that we are one tiny part of the greater whole of humanity, which is itself one piece in our planet’s ecosystem. We forget that our planet is part of an integrative system of the solar system, which is part of the galaxy, which is part of the Universe, which is one of many Universes. It is an endlessly integrated system, if you look at the floor, the wall; all reflect the same universal Reality. If you could look at an electron microscope you would see the same system, the same internally consistent, ever-repeating system.
So, where is the dividing line between the inner and outer? Is it what is seen only? Is it what is known, only? Is there really a line, or as we gain knowledge, true knowledge (marifa), as we gain the capacity of basira, does that apparent line recede? How limited is this linear view? Is it not better to at least try to conceptualize it more like concentric circles emerging from one source, like ripples of waves when a stone is cast into still water…going out and returning only when meeting a barrier…but what if there is no barrier?
We can understand that the dhahir and batin are not only two aspects of the same whole, but also two faces of each moment. Our challenge, if we are seekers, is to seize the moment (Waqt) through remembrance of the Divine Presence. In doing that we are finding harmony (Mizan) we are present in The Presence. Insh’Allah. That process itself is endless but to be conscious, truly conscious, it demands constant vigilance, constant attentiveness, and continuous remembrance, dikr.
According to Bukhari, Abu Musa al-Ashcari related that the Prophet (s) said, “The difference between the one who makes dhikr and the one who doesn’t make dhikr is like the difference between the living and the dead.”
Through remembrance we are linked with the events of the past and it is upon remembrance we build our futures. By remembering Allah (swt) the Creator, the essential Truth, we are remembering our origin, understanding our place and creating what appears to be our future. Yet who are we in the inner. Are we to gauge our being by our age, by our physical appearance or by our state, our knowledge our character? Our bodies may tell us one thing but our mind and heart another. I am constantly surprised by the discrepancy between my inner state and mind and the limitations of this body. Is that not the narrative we see everywhere, spoken in nature and all life, the eternal internal potential against the apparent reality of the outer cycles of birth and life and death?
I was on a train recently and an older man walked past me and said; “Excuse me young man.” I said, “thank you for the compliment.” And he said, “it’s true, we are young because we once were young and we experienced youth, so we are still young and more than that we are also aged.”
ALHamdullah. If we are the sum total of what we always were and the future is ‘more’ than that, it is truly a reflection of the sifat, the asma ul husna that is Allah (swt). But Allah (swt) is More than that, in time and before time. Allahu-Akbar. (Allah is Greater). Whatever is, Allah is Greater than that.
Why is this important to our understanding of dhahir and batin? As I speak today about on this subject, I ask you to keep this perspective in mind. Dhahir and Batin are part of every aspect of our creation, from our physical bodies, to our individual characters (akhlaq), but do not forget that in some ways, it is all a metaphor, a corridor (majaz), to help us move from one place in our understanding to another, and find the balance between the inner and outer. I will return to these idea majaz, as it relates to the outer and inner, but first let me speak about how we perceive the dhahir and batin.
PERCEIVING THE INNER AND OUTER
The things we encounter in our day-to-day life with our five senses (which correlate to the four elements: Earth Air Fire Water), and with our cognitive capability are dhahir. The things that are hidden from the sense are the batin; that which is unseen. But the batin can be sensed with our unique cognitive and intuitive senses. We sense the batin through the organs of perception of the lataif: qalb, ruh , sirr, kafi, akhfa, nafs. Part of the challenge of life is learning how to see and understand these two aspects that Allah has created.
As I mentioned in my introduction, to try to grasp what we call the “Unicity” of Allah, or the diversity within the Unity, we must see and interact with both the outer and the inner. We might ask, why are we ‘structured’ in such a way that we live or act in a dualistic system, when we are spiritually seeking the resolution of that apparent duality into Unity?
If we look around us, we see that the dynamics of life are reflected in this constant change or movement between the awareness of the outer and inner: it is the dynamic of life itself. We are surrounded by dualities that make up a whole: sleep and wakefulness, dreams and reality, life and death, male and female, up and down, sky and earth, day and night, positive and negative, attraction and repulsion: these are the most basic building blocks of our universe… Allah speaks to us repeatedly about “pairs” in Qur’an:
Wa min kulli shay’in khalaqana zowjayni la’allakum takhakkarun.
And All things We have created in pairs in order that you might reflect. [51:47-49]
Guest Speaker: Mi’raj Ahmad Riccio speaks with Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid
We have the ability taste these different aspects of Reality; to simultaneously recognize the duality and wholeness. As in the dream state we can be in the dream and yet also aware of the fact that we are dreaming. But most people are content to stay asleep, letting the “dream” be their reality. Some of us, though, are deeply and profoundly motivated to move through the corridor (majaz) between theses apparent realities; not automatically, as in sleep, but consciously and by choice, through meditation, dhikr, and contemplation. This allows us greater understanding and vision, but also can heal the body, sustain the viability of the mind, and give us insight (basira) into a timeless, non-linear dimension that transcends the limitations of mere worldly assumptions and knowledge (information). The track through this majaz is tawwujoh and dhikr, attentiveness and remembrance. But each of us must adjust the lens through which we ‘see,’ by directing our attention progressively through the lenses we are provided with– The lataif, subtle organs of perception.
The lataif are the lenses to focus our sight and understanding of the batin, they are tracks through the corridor that allow us to be here in this world and aware of the Infinite at the same time. This conscious back and forth movement between two apparent worlds, or rather two aspects of one reality, create a rhythm in life that provides consonance and balance, which, in turn maximizes our human and our spiritual potential. Rhis rhythm is characterized in the dhahir by the 5 prayers each day.
AL-MAJAZ: THE WAY BETWEEN
There are certain concepts and realities that can only be seen vis a vis majāz (metaphor). A metaphor is a word or phrase that exists and changes as it travels from one linguistic, semiotic, state to another. What is ‘seen’ in the final state or stage of development, will, over time, be the basis of change that allows us to see into the unseen; facilitating changes in cultural orientation, mentality, even our language.
There are spiritual realities or concepts that are inaccessible directly, but for the interface of majāz. Without metaphor, those spiritual realities won’t be revealed. Just like when you hear a poem, you hear words, they are images of reality, but in some way there is a non-spoken, spiritual experience that is taking place that uplifts you and deepens your knowledge. Knowledge from the batin is travelling through the metaphorical corridor, the majaz, to the dhahir. It has been transformed. Words that independently have one meaning, in combination take on or imply a totally different meaning or concept. In the dhāhir, things are actualized. In the bātin, things are compressed and condensed, even time. For example, the Prophet (sal) stated that, “An hour’s contemplation is better than seventy years of worship.” And some traditions and fuqaha’ have even mentioned it as being better than a thousand years of worship.
In the dhāhir things are only nominally connected and require developing to connect the elements of events or elements in creation, while in the bātin things are obviously connected and reflective of the Unity. In the bātin, everything is One and unending…infinite. So every little thing affirms the infinite. The dhāhir is the emergent abstraction. The bātin is the innermost concealed essence or core.
Ibn Araby said,
When the spirit descends upon the heart of the servant, through the sending down of the angel and casting of the revelation of Allah, the heart of one to whom it is sent down becomes alive.
The heart he is talking about is not just this thing that is beating in our chest.
But there is a relationship between the physical heart and the spiritual heart, or latifa “Qalb,” because analogically or metaphorically what takes place in the heart in human life is transformational and filled with many meanings and knowledge that come to us, unplanned and unprepared. Like love or grief, loss, sorrow, fear; things that are bestowed upon us by life, just as Allah bestows upon us his tajalli, and cause changes in our spiritual heart/qalb.
The subtlety of that latifa qalb, the heart, is the most important subtlety. Consequently, our heart is referred to as the most important centers of the spiritual body and the most important of the lataa’if. When the eye of the heart opens, it transforms us spiritually and gives the potential, to see what is Real. When it is operating properly and functionally, it is able to distinguish between what is real and what is an illusion; what is good and bad, right and wrong; true and false.
If it is not functioning properly, just like the physical heart, it loses its rhythm and capability. Since the heart’s purpose is an extension, or an aggregator of the revelatory organ based on the other senses of perception or capabilities of the lataa’if, a person’s heart which is oriented toward the divine presence leads a person to this receptivity of the tajalli and knowledge.
AKHLAQ AND MIZAN
If we understand this interconnected system of inner and outer, in which individual balance and the balance of our environment is linked, I think we will also begin to understand that destructive human forces, environmentally and socially are less a problem of resources and resource utilization than they are a result of attitude and character, and ultimately manifestations of disbelief, arrogance, and shirk. Because we are all part of the same unified system, our attitudes effect our environment, and, in turn, the destruction of natural resources, through war or economic exploitation, has profound results on human psychology, health, relationships, and well-being. Hence the need for a spiritually alive, spiritually based value system that resonates with the human soul and with the Divine Commands emerging from the Alam ul Amr…world of command.
Acting in Harmony with our Creation is acting in harmony with our Creator. Hence the necessity for responsible behavior, intellectual astuteness, humility and obedience to the Will of Allah (swt); awareness of that Divine Presence with Taqwa (pious respect). What we see can and should be ayah (signs) and reflections for us to contemplate–doorways to the Infinite.
Allah created this earth and created us in a beautiful form:
LAQADa KhALAQaNA-L-INSANA FII AHSANI TAQaWIM
Truly we created the human being in the best form [95:4]
And He also tells us in Qur’an, “Do what is beautiful [kind], as Allah has done what is beautiful [kind] to you.” [28:77]
He has made us beautiful in form. And it is why we are so aware of the foundation (Ihsan) why we are created to give praise (tahsin) to Allah (swt). Because of this, we have an obligation to behave in a beautiful way; to reflect on the Divine Presence and see it’s reflection in us. In our lives, in our relationship to the world, to the planet, to one another, and by doing this, we will be acting in accordance with the form and nature that Allah (swt) created us with. When someone behaves in this way, there is a harmonization with what was created, our actions, and the depths of our understanding; a harmonization of the inner and the outer; the dhahir and the batin.
This harmony of the batin, the apparent outer, is called akhlaq. Akhlaq (أخلاق) refers to the practice of virtue, morality and manners and the consequent aspect of the unseen ( aqeeda -beliefs). The essence of Akhlaq is to act from our spiritual character (or ruh, sirr, kafi, akhfa) rather than acting out of our nafs amarra and lower aspects of our human nature. The word akhlaq is the plural for the word khulq which means disposition. “Disposition” is a property of the soul that comes into existence (from the batin, it is manifest in the dhahir) through exercise and repetitive practice.
Al-Ghazali encouraged his students to reflect on the external and internal forms of beauty, saying, “There are three kinds of beauty; the first is external physical beauty (dhahir) that he regards as the most debased form.”
In al Kimya al-Sa’adaa (The Alchemy of Happiness) he writes, ” . . . as to [mans’] beauty, he is little more than nauseous matter covered with a fair skin. Without frequent washing he becomes utterly repulsive and disgraceful.”
The second type is moral beauty (batin) that he relates to a persons character:
“The former kind of man [a man who is only acquainted with sensuous delights] will say that beauty resides in red-and-white complexions, well-proportioned limbs, and so forth, but he will be blind to moral beauty, such as men refer to when they speak of such and such a man as possessing a beautiful character. But those possessed of inner perception find it quite possible to love the departed great, such as the Caliphs Omar and Abu Bakr, on account of their noble qualities, through their bodies have long been mingled with the dust. Such love is directed not towards any outward form, but towards the inner character. Even when we wish to excite love in a child towards anyone, we do not describe their outward beauty or form, etc . . . , but their inner excellences.”
(We know from reports of the remains of some awliya that their bodies remain uncorrupted even after centuries of internment. It seems as a testimonial to true hassana, goodness of the being.)
The third type of beauty that al-Ghazali describes is the spiritual; it is the most sublime, because it is directly connected to the of the Almighty:
“The heart of man has been so constituted by the Almighty that, like a flint, it contains a hidden fire which is evoked by music and harmony, and renders man beside himself with ecstasy. These harmonies are echoes of that higher world of beauty which we call the world of spirits; they remind man of his relationship to that world, and produce in him an emotion so deep and strange that he himself is powerless to explain it.”
To be in harmony with ones environment, with others, and with ones inner and outer self facilitates the gaining of insight (basira) and brings one nearer to awareness of Divine Presence. As Sufis, we are seeking to rend the veils that hide that third type of beauty, the beauty of balance; the dynamic movement between the apparent inner an outer. More precisely, we are seeking clear discernment (firasa) in the moment (waqt) of our zaman and makan (time and place), out of which conscious decision, action and response will arise. We will at will have free access, through the Majaz .
As Allah says to us in Surah Ar-Rahman:
Wa-s-samaa’a rafa’aha wa wada’aa-l-mizan
alla tataghow fi-l-mizan
And He has raised up the sky and set the balance—
That you might not transgress the balance. [55:7-8]
When you look at the perfection of creation and the beauty of the Creator, and the essence of the Creator. The dhahir leads you to the batin.
Even though my initial statement was that there is truly no duality, we also know that the experience of daily life presents opposites to us and we make choices moment to moment where we turn our attention. We are constantly seeking out the balance. Only when we arrive at the maqam (station) that we ‘see’ the outer as an expression of the inner can we truly understand. Until we achieve that understanding we must act by choosing, balancing, turning, intending, and attending to life ‘as if’ it was dual.
The Shaykh Mohammad ibn Ali said:
“Then wrap yourself in patience and wind on the turban of self-renewal. You need the shirt of doing-without, and you should wear yourself out in it.”
The Shaykh also tells us:
The murid desires to travel on the spiritual path from the ‘presence of creation and beings, to the presence of the Reality and direct seeing (basira) as a compensation for his reparation, his service and longing and his love. The end is in your Lord who is endless; union to Allah is awareness of His Presence and gnosis and only the patient achieve this station.
OUTER WORK, INNER INTENTION
When we hear and think about the dhahir and batin, as I have spoken about it today, there is a tendency to segregate these two aspects, in our thinking and in our lives. We divide our “private self” and our “public self;” our “work life” and our “spiritual life;” our “secular friends” and our “religious friends”… But my point today is they are not separate, Allah is AHAD, so we cannot, and should not separate the two aspects of the whole in our own lives. As Allah says in Qur’an:
Do not those who cover up the Truth see that the heavens and the earth were of one piece and We parted them? [21:30]
Shaykh Abu Madyan (ra) focusing his teaching on this point; encouraging his students to treat life as a whole; to look at relationships, ethics, and codes (akhlaq), as well as, amal, work and social action. This outward focus was a focus of the spiritual expressions, spiritual experiences in life. Until his time, the internalization of spiritual life had always been regarded as the most essential life for the Sufi, the pious life. He said that the inner comprised only part of the work, of the amal. He made a distinction between the dhahir the outer, and the batin, the inner aspects of reality, to the point where he said that these two aspects were not understood to mean that the interior was more real than the exterior, but the application and the concerns that arise or the insights that arise from the interior are the criteria for meaningfulness in the outer.
In a way we could say that he focused on the Ummah ta wasita, the people of the center or the middle path. The spiritual method has to be outer and inner, public and private, worldly and spiritual, but they have to complement each other as though they are a single reality. The foundation has to be in the spiritual, inner practice and its application manifest in the outer. To maintain mizan, nothing one does in the outer should be far from the reality of the inner; nothing one does in the outer should be far from your own consciousness of the inner. The best way to accomplish that, of course, is to be so cognizant of the Divine Presence; everything reminds you of Allah (swt), such that with every action we take, we are in consonance with the presence or attributes of Allah: The Hazari.
There cannot be a conflict between our outer work and our inner knowledge, or between our outer work and our inner intention. Just as people who put all their attention on the outer are unbalanced, the Sufis who put all their emphasis on only the inner and removed themselves from society and became outwardly pious did not have a balanced, spiritual experience. Spiritual growth requires balance. Most people want to start with the outer and work toward the inner, but in fact one needs to start with the Batin and the Dhahir together. A point counterpoint.
There have always been Sufis who were very deeply, profoundly spiritual people whose life was and is focused on the inner. Their outer work is the teaching. Of course, that is a great blessing to be focused almost exclusively on the evident and clearly spiritual aspects of life, but do not think it makes it any easier. Because when your outer work is teaching, it does not mean that you are spending enough time in the inner. And in addition, some of them also had more visibly “outer” work as well, some were shopkeepers, or farmers; some were even, at times, in the court of the king, or the emir or the Sultan. These people, like Ibn Araby, wrote a lot, they spoke a lot, they did a lot in the outer. Many of them were qadis, judges and advocates and teachers. That was their outer work and their inner practices were strong.
DEVELOPING THE INNER
We must work to develop our inner self and strive to be a person with an open door between the outer and inner, a person whose inner knowledge allows them to understand their outer circumstances. That person comes to a state of mind of believing that Allah is playing a major role in their life and accepts what that role was without craving or yearning too many other things. One of the ways, in the early days of Sufism, that people would accomplish awareness of the importance of such an attitude, was through sawm, fasting.
Shaykh Abdu Madyan would have his students fast for forty days, only on water for forty days, leaving their khilwa, only to answer the call of nature and to pray and to attend the Dhikr. They would, of course, fast at Rajab. They would fast at Shaban. They would do the fast three days a month, every month. It was done at a person’s own discretion. Like the Prophet (sal) in the cave in Hira, the person who performed that salm al wasl, would repent and bathe and do two rakha and then they would do their forty days of seclusion. What they would do during that time is repeat, “La illah ha illah la, la illah ha illah la” until they developed a strong Tawakkul, a strong reliance and trust in Allah.
Understand that the foundational principle of this type of practices is to develop awareness of the inner. For the outer to be in consonance with the inner, one must develop tawakkul, trust, and khumul, quiescence, and suqun, acquiescence. What did that mean? Complete quiescence meant the cessation of the ego-motivated thoughts and desires. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have thoughts or desires. It means ego-motivated thoughts or desires. Rumi said,
External enemies are nothing. What could they be? Don’t you see how many thousands of unbelievers are prisoners of an unbeliever? Who is their leader? That one unbeliever is a prisoner of thought. We realize thus, and the thoughts are to be reckoned with since by means of one feeble mean thought, so many thousands of people are held captive.
When I see distinctively that a hundred thousand forms without bound and hosts without end, multitude upon multitude are held captive by a person who is held captive in turn by a miserable thought, then all these are prisoners of one thought. How would it be if the thoughts were great, endless, holy, sublime? We realize then, therefore, that thoughts matter. Forms are secondary, mere instruments.
How many of us are prisoners of our thoughts? Isn’t that what has happened to us? So the pain and the misery, the outward forms of inward anger and arrogance, misery and selfish ambition and cruelty to others. The way to overcome them is on the level of the inner, the way to overcome them is in where we direct our heart.
Abu Madyan said, “The heart has no more than one aspect at a time such that when it is occupied by a certain thing, it is veiled from another. Take care that you are not attracted to anything but Allah lest He deprive you of the delights of intimate converse with Him.”
In conclusion, I will return to the concept of unity. As I quoted earlier: Allah says in Qur’an:
Do not those who cover up the Truth see that the heavens and the earth were of one piece and We parted them? [21:30]
We were one piece before we were born and were split into two: the physical and spiritual, dhahir and batin. The key to returning to “whole-ness” lies in the heart; the only organ that exists both in the dhahir (through the physical organ) and the batin (lataif Qalb).
The expressions of Allah are reflected, like in a mirror, in the heart of a human. The secret hidden power of the heart is called al himma (yearning). It is a secret power or energy, quwatta kaffiyeh; a force of the batin, the hidden. Himma is a quality of the heart and an intention of the soul, so strong and powerful that it can, in and of itself, bring into existence that which is only a possibility among the possibilities of the un-manifest divine.
If you analyze the concept of himma, you see that it is a dynamic capability/creativity of the heart that we all have to project onto an external plane (the dhahir), what is conceived by the heart (the batin). Everything exists as potential, but infinitesimally small, the heart can project the potential of the batin onto the outer. It is this ability of the heart that gives the Seeker the cability to perceive the Divine consciousness.
It is this perceptive capability of the heart that allowed for the Prophet Mohammed (sal) to experience the highest spiritual state, and say, I have seen my Lord in the most beautiful of forms.
This vision of Allah, Ya Rabb, through the power of himma is not just the power of yearning. Remember; it is this secret force, quwatta kafiyyeh. That experience has a Dhawq/taste, just like a taste, it pervades the being. That dhawq takes you to a state so high where Allah’s divine presence is the only thing in your consciousness. That is that union with the Divine Beloved; that state of all- pervasiveness.
The perception becomes such that it pierces the veils, and the incredible power to penetrate the dhahir, to see behind it the secret; everything that lies past the grasp of logic, reason, and physical perception. As shaykh al Akbar says in The Wisdom of the Prophets,
“Who is here and what is there? Who is here is what is there. He who is universal is particular, and he who is particular is universal. There is but one essence, the light of the essence also being darkness. He who heeds these words will not fall into confusion. In truth, only he knows what we say who is possessed of al himma.”
Sufism is not just observing rules nor does it just tell you the different stages and degrees of a person’s growth, but it is living a life fulfilling the potential of the heart: personal integrity, generosity, compassion, patience…. The person, who follows the true path of Tasawwuf, is not just an ascetic who focuses only on their development, ignoring the injustices that are plaguing the world, the poverty, the illness, the wars, the starvation…. The Sufi is someone who has a full engaged life, the Sufi is the person who uses discipline and uses vigilance and uses one’s own self in the best way possible to serve one’s brother and sister and one’s neighbor.
Abu Madyan said, “The true Sufi must not be jealous, egotistical or arrogant with his knowledge, nor miserly with his money. Rather he must act as a guide, not confused, but merciful of heart and compassionate with all of creation. To him every person is as useful as one of his hands. He is an ascetic, everything equal to him whether it be praise or blame, receiving or giving, acceptance or rejection, wealth or poverty. He is neither joyful about what comes to him or sad about what has been lost.” That is the Sufi.
Let us remember, the life of the Sufi is one of Mizan, balance between life, inner and outer; constant vigilance; and detachment from the world while at the same time fully participating in it.
There is a time for inward practices, and a time for out activities. The Sufi seeks to see beyond the outer and inner, into the whole; to see the integrated system and to integrate the outer and inner in his/her life.
From the Lecture series , “Five Sundays”, at the zawiyya of Shaykh Nooruddeen Durkee, harlottesville, Virginia, 25 April 2010
The second talk in the 5 Sundays on Tasawwuf (2009-2010) addresses the historical and practical importance of a guide on the Sufic Path. This second talk, Suhbat and the Oral Tradition, was presented Dec 6, 2009 at the Islamic Study Center in Charlottesville, VA. For more info about this series of talks.
Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was a great saint and a truly universal being (insan-i-kamil). Over time, his importance and his contribution to Sufic thought and action is being more and more recognized throughout the world.
Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was born in 1859 A.D. in Balgadhi (a village in India in the of Bengal). His father was an expert in both theology and spiritual sciences, and was a master of alchemy, that is the ability to transform materials from one substance to another. When Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was only six years old, his father passed away, and his mother had to shoulder the full responsibility of raising the child. In accordance with the will of her husband, she moved from Balgadhi to Hoogli, near Calcutta. She spun thread to earn a livelihood. Her life was a model of patience and gratitude. Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was so considerate that despite his early age, he tried to contribute to the family’s income by doing minor work to help his mother. After some time, at the request of a relative, the family moved from Hoogli to Naldanga. Here Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah’s mother would stay until her last breath, and here the holy tomb of Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) would eventually be situated.
Once, when Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was a child, some boys asked came to him and asked to accompany them in stealing coconuts. Initially he refused to go, but when they insisted, he agreed to join them. They reached the trees, and the other boys started picking coconuts. They asked Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) to stand watch nearby, ready to inform them if anyone approached. It happened that the coconut trees were near a graveyard. Suddenly, Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) saw a dead person coming towards him. This person said: ”Good boy, you were not born for this purpose.” Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) left his comrades there and returned home.
Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) received no formal education. He was admitted to a school, but he did not like this type of education, and so he left school and engaged himself in various jobs. At last he got a position with a good salary at the railway. He could now have a better life, and also be in the company of friends.
One night, Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) saw his father in a dream. He told him that he didn’t approve of the job at the railway because of corruption in the workplace. In his heart, Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) had remained detached from that employment, and when he got up in the morning, he decided to resign. His Arabic teacher and some of his friends tried to prevent him from resigning, warning him that it would be very difficult to get this kind of work again. He didn’t accept their advice, and left the railway.
Shortly thereafter, he suffered from dysentery, so acute that people though he might not survive. Again he saw his father in a dream. He gave him something to eat, and he ate his fill. When he awoke, he felt better, and within a few days he was completely cured.
By now, Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was quite a changed person, devoting most of his time to spiritual pursuits. He was also searching for a Shaykh who could guide him in this path.
He was first initiated by a great Chishti Shaykh, Hazrat Karim Bakhsh (r.a.), (the father of our Grand Shaykh), who happened to pass through Balgadhi. When Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) started observing pas-an-fas (awareness of breath) according to the instructions of his Shaykh, his heart was opened. He was very happy with the experience and began to take even more interest and to devote himself enthusiastically to this pursuit. But he was sorry that he could not see the Shaykh again.
One day when he was engaged in dhikr, the founder of the Chishti Tariqa, Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti (r.a.) appeared before him and said that although there was nothing wrong with the line of the Order, in the future, he himself would instruct Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.). From that time onward, Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti came and gave transmission to Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.). Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) said to our Grand Shaykh Hazrat Hamid Hasan Alawi, “Do not think that it was a matter of vision. He used to sit with me as you are sitting now in from of me.” Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti assisted him through the stations of the path. Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah narrated:
“ Whenever I encountered difficult barriers and I felt I lacked the strength within me to reach higher and cross the barrier, Moinuddun Chishti (r.a.) used to lift me with the help of his special being. I would ask, “Hazrat, is this the goal of the journey?” He always replied, “No. The goal is still far away.” Until finally, one day he said, “Now you have reached the destination.”
Once when the month of Ramadan coincided with the rainy season, Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) reached a point there he had only one penny left. With this penny he bought some grain, which enabled him and his wife to carry on for two more days. Finally, his financial position was so bad that there was not a single penny left in the house. Looking back upon this period, Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) later observed, “I was not afraid of my being tested, but I was worried about my wife. I was concerned that she might no be able to bear the strain and that she might become impatient.” But in the company of great souls, other souls also show greatness. His wife used to put plain water in a pot on the fire, so that the neighbors would not suspect that they were starving.
Two days passed in this condition. They could break fast only with sips of water. At such moments, even great persons lose patience and become distracted from the Path. Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) however, devoted himself fully to his practices. He thought that death might be near, and that therefore it would be best to do as much as he could in his spiritual pursuit. It was raining and the roof of his house was so old, that water ran down from all sides. Still, he didn’t keep himself from being busy in doing his dhikr. He put a pot or some utensils on his head to keep the water off. When it stopped raining, he emptied the pot and again continued his meditation.
One day, when Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was engaged in his practices in this miserable condition, Hazrat Ali (r.a.) and Hazrat Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani (r.a.) appeared, dressed in beautiful shining garments and holding unsheathed swords in their hands. They had visited him several times before, but today’s visit was a special one. While one caught hold of his right arm, the other caught hold of his left arm, and together they made his stand on a high platform. They said, “O Abdul Bari, you should be a wali from this day onward!” [note: wali literally means ‘friend of God’, or a saint]
After Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) had come out of this state, but while he was still in meditation, a man came into his room and said, “O Hazrat Sayyid, the roof of this hut has become useless. Please allow me to repair it.” Another man came and gave him two rupees and a sign of reverence. In brief, the unfavourable times ended. Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) used to say that after this time, he didn’t have to face starvation again, even though he might sometimes go hungry for three or four days in a month.
When the teaching had been completed, Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti made Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) his khalifa (deputy) and gave him ijazat (permission) to teach others in the Chishti Order.
After some time, Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) happened to meet the great Mujaddedi Shaykh of that time, Hazrat Maulana Gulam Salmani (r.a.). After completing lataif-i-ashra (ten centers of consciousness) Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) asked Shaykh Salmani (r.a.) to make him his murid. But the Shaykh refused his request. He was terribly disappointed. When he sat in meditation, Shaykh Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (r.a.) appeared and asked the reason for his grief. After hearing the story, Shaykh Ahmad Faruqi )r.a.) said, “Now go to Shaykh Salmani. This time, he will accept you as a murid.” Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) visited the Shaykh again and described his conversation with Shaykh Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (r.a.). After hearing of the incident, Shaykh Salmani (r.a.) initiated Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) in the Mujaddidi Order.
Although outwardly, Hazrat Maulana Salmani (r.a.) was the Shaykh of Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.), inwardly, Shaykh Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (r.a.) continued to give him transmission. Through the method of uwaysi, other founders of the great Orders, including Hazrat Shaykh Abdul Jilani, Shaykh Abdul Hasan Shadhili, and Hazrat Shaykh Bahauddin Naqshband, also made him their deputies and gave hem permission to teach in the Orders. In the same Uwaysi way, Hazrat Uways Qarani also gave him permission to teach according to his Order and made him his deputy.
In short, Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) received permission to initiate and teach students in the Chishti, Qadiri, Mujaddedi, Naqshbandi, Shadhili, and Qaraniya Orders, and in Silsila-al-dhahab (the Golden Chain). At the same time, by the grace of Allah, he achieved different spiritual ranks and received higher stations and status in the spiritual worlds.
There was an elderly woman in Calcutta, who was one of the forty Abdals. Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) sometimes used to meet with her. When she died, through his kashf (vision), he was asked to carry on her duties as an Abdal.
Also at that time, Shaykh Abul Hasan (r.a.) was acting as Qutub-i-Madar (Pole of the Universe), and was living in Mecca. He directed his attention towards Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) and established a spiritual connection with him. The Shaykh used to meet with Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) daily to give him transmission. Sometimes he would come to Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) and sometimes Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) would go to Mecca for their meetings. When Our Grand Shaykh Hazrat Hamid Hasan Alawi heard this, he was surprised, for there was a long distance between these two places. But Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) said, that in spiritual journeying, space and time so not count.
When Shaykh Abul Hasan left the body, there was a gathering in the vicinity of the Holy Ka’aba in Mecca. Many great saints presented themselves as candidates for the post of Qutub-i-Madar. He was also present, but thinking himself the lowest of all and not fit for that position, he stood in the last place. The Angel Gabriel (a.s.) stepped into the gathering with a crown of jewels and pearls in his hand, and called the name of Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.). The latter rushed to stand before Gabriel (a.s.). Then Hazrat Gabriel (a.s.) put the crown on the head of Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.). Motioning towards the Holy Ka’aba, he said, “You are the caretaker of this House from this day onward.” After that, Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) fulfilled the duties of Qutub-i-Madar.
Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) made important contribution to the Orders in which he was authorized and to Tasawwuf in general. One of his masters, Hazrat Shaykh Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (r.a.), had previously completed the Naqshbandi Order, using the technique of indiraj un nihayat fi al-bidayat. Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) introduced the method of indiraj un nihayat fi al-bidayat to the rest of the major Orders with the consent of their founders.
Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) also made some changes in the system of premiership (making disciples). He was not happy with the prevalent system, which required that an individual becomes a murid or murida before starting to do the Sufic practices. He put an end to this tradition by permitting aspirants to embark on the spiritual journey without becoming murid, or murida. However, after the completion of ten lataif (centers of consciousness) it was discovered that it was difficult for students to proceed further on the path unless they become murids. Today, the most significant feature of our Order is that it is not necessary to become a murid before undertaking the practices. Only after finishing lataif-i-ashra (the ten centers of consciousness) is a student obliged to make this commitment. In other Orders, becoming a murid is the first condition for starting the practices.
Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) also wielded the title of Muhafiz-i-ulum, the one whose duty is to safeguard both the Sharia and Tariqa. Therefore, we hope that all sorts of misunderstanding between Sharia and Tariqa will be removed and a better harmony will prevail in this matter.
Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was not only the Qutub-i-Madar (Pole of the Universe) of his times, but also occupied the status of Qutub-i-Irshad (pole for Spiritual Guidance). Among the earlier saints, only few select persons had the privilege to occupy both of these posts. The world never remains without a Qutub-i-Madar. When one leaves the body, another takes his place or her place immediately. But it is not necessary for Qutub-i-Irshad to be present all the time. His or her spirit may carry on the work, even after leaving the body.
As Hazrat Ali (r.a.) and other Imams (Poles) belonging to the family of the Prophet (salla’allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) occupied the position of Qutub-i-Irshad to award the sainthood to a salik, so too, Shaykh Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) had this privilege. From Shaykh Abdul Jilani to Sayyid Abdul Bari shah no Shaykh possessed this position. It was concerned with the spirit of Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, which carried on the work even after leaving the body. Even Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (r.a.) regarded himself as the deputy of Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani (r.a.) when he fulfilled this duty. He wrote that this responsibility was concerned with the spirit of Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani (r.a.), and that he had been given this responsibility as his khalifa. In contrast, Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) had personal authority in this regard. There we see that although Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) passed away more that fifty years ago, his spirit still imparting spiritual guidance.
Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) used to tell his students, “There is no need for you to go anywhere. Do not think that I am speaking from my ego. I am selfless, and whatever I am saying is for your betterment.” He used to compare himself with the earlier saint, Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani (r.a.). He would show his fingers side by side and say, “He and I are like these two fingers. Where he is present, he also asks me to join there.”
Once by chance Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) happened to visit a grave. He stood there for a while, apparently out of reverence for the deceased. People began to ask whether the person in the grave was a wali (saint). Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) said that he had not been a wali previously, but now he was.
Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was frank with his students and did not like any special distinction to be accorded to him. Whenever he happened to stay at our Grand Shaykh’s house, he said that if anyone asked about him, that person should simply be told that a guest was staying there. He seldom uttered harsh words or scolded his students. If he thought is necessary to rebuke them, he would say, “You lack adab.” He was so merciful that immediately after uttering this, he would add, “I am responsible for your wrong behaviour.”
Most of his time he devoted to meditation, continuing each sitting for about three hours. He often spent the whole night in meditation, yet felt fresh and cheerful in the morning. He loved his students as his own sons and daughters. They also loved him very much, and were not tempted to pay attention to other Shaykhs, no matter how great they might be. For example, the water carrier of Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) once went to the river to fetch some water. He saw a person like Khidr (peace be upon him) in the distance, calling to him. The water carrier replied, “Why should I come to you? Why shouldn’t I go to my own teacher, through whose nearness you are calling me.”
Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was not able to receive a formal education, but with the help of ‘ilm-i-ladunni (the knowledge which is not learned, but is reflected into the tranquil mind of a Sufi from another plane of being), he could answer questions, quoting books and even citing specific pages and line numbers. It seemed that the details of all kinds of knowledge and sciences remained open before him.
Hazrat Sayyid Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) left his body and took abode in the heavens at the age of only forty. He had no children. He lived very simply in an ordinary hut.
One day Hazrat Abdul Bari Shah (r.a.) was making ablution in a corner of his house. As he did so, the thought entered his mind: “I am a poor man living in solitude, and it seems that this Order will remain limited to me alone.” This feeling saddened him, but then an indication from God made him happy. He came to know, that God would spread this Order from East to West, and from land to sea. By the grace of God, we can now apprehend the signs of the fulfillment of this promise.
My Dear Friends, Students, brothers and sisters: Asalaamu alaykum wa Rahmatullahe wa Barakatuh
This years Ramadan Retreat was designed, insh’Allah to focus on the great blessings of the month of Ramadan as a means to grasp the subtleties of perception (ayn ul Lataif) available to the sincere and devoted seeker of understanding Reality and oneself; and the signs of Behavior (Akhlaq) that indicate that an individual is utilizing the subtle organs of perception in their daily life.
This year I asked seekers to travel with me between the Alam ul Amr and the Alam ul Khalaq; to pass through the corridor of the Alam ul Mithal (majaz) through a unique and proven method of muraqabah (meditation), Dhikr ul Allah, Recitation of al Qur’an and the transformative experience of Sohbet (being in good company and under the sway of an authorized Shaykh).
It was my niyyah (intention) that participants taste and begin to grasp the inner meaning of Islam, of Tasawwuf by the Tajalli of Allah swt. As we walked together through the beautiful lights on the path to the Masjid in the company of fellow seekers, I hope and pray that we lived fully in the metaphor of the light of Allah and the Prophet (salallahu alehi wa Salim) awake and aware with “eyes that see and ears that hear”.
Ramadan at the Khanaqah of the World Community is the prelude to a year of remembrance of the blessing of this life, service to all people…all the children of Hazrat Adam (as), devotion to Allah and striving for better and better character. It is the renewal (tajdid) of our faith and hopefully a reminder of our responsibility as the Khalifa’s of the Amanat that Allah granted us.
I wish to thank everyone who joined us for the last weekend of Ramadan, especially Dr. Sulayman Nyang, and Brother Ibrahim Hakim, who both gave beautiful talks. We move forward with a new beginning of awareness of the Blessings of this Life.
Ma s salaam,
Shaykh Ahmed abdu r Rashid,
Khanaqah at the World Community
During the Ramadan Retreat at the khanaqah of Shaykh Ahmed Abdu-r-Rashid, Ibrahim Hakim gives a talk on excerpts of the classical Sufi text of Ibn Ata’llah Iskandari’s (ra) “The Hikam” focused on the subject of suhbat. Shaykh Rashid gives comments following the talk.
Bismillaahi-r-Rahmaani-r-RaheemOh Allah, we ask You for words which will make certain Your Mercy, actions which will make certain Your Forgiveness, freedom from every offence, a supply of every virtue, entering Jannah and safety from the Naar.
Allahumma inna nasaluka mujibati rahmatika, Wa’aza’ima magfiratika, wa salamata min kulli, Itmin, wal-ganimata min kulli birrin, wal-fawza bil-jannati min-a nnar.
(excerpt from lecture)
The Importance of Attitude
But we must also do our part. Even the allopathic doctors now recognize that the attitude of the patient is a part of, if not at least half of the cure. Without the inner motivation, or the opportunity for that motivation, there can be no cure, no good health, no lasting happiness, and no purpose.
How important is attitude? We need only look at the example of the Prophet (sal) to see.
Once a group of Jews in Medina greeted Nebi Muhammad (sal)) by saying, “Al Samu alaykum,” which means, “Death be upon you.” Aisha (raa) grew angry and retorted, “May death be upon you, and curses!” The Prophet (sal) disapproved of what Aisha (radiy Allahu Ta’aalaa anha) had said, commenting,
Innallaaha yuh.ibu-r-rifqa fi-l-amri kulih.
Truly Allah loves kindness in everything.
Allah (swt) loves kindness in everything, from everyone, in every circumstance. Even if there is no kindness in return, still, there should be kindness
We may say to ourselves that such attaining the goal of that frame of mind and heart is unattainable, but most important is our aspiration to that goal. To aspire is natural (himma); but to have positive results, i.e. contentment, fulfillment, sense of progress, it is necessary also to extricate oneself from the grips of disillusionment, fear, and self-doubt. To identify these symptoms, we must genuinely ask ourselves whether or not the “I” wants to change. Every one of us says we do, but it is normal to question whether our aspiration and intention (niyat) can be transformed into something of a higher nature; something that is lasting (a maqam), not a momentary experience. Regular appointments with the spiritual doctor can assure us of progress toward full health and well being, but there is more to understand. The doctor prescribes or gives methods to practice, which assists our body, heart and soul to regulate themselves (like the immune system does for our physical body).
One Sufi master said that,
“No one may be transformed into something greater or higher than the ordinary man by any act or will from the Teacher. Yet, somehow this expectation is fostered by some Teachers (and students), and certainly hoped for by indolent mureeds and mureedas. It is not the role of the teacher to be a miracle worker, although to the receptive heart, many apparent miracles transpire between the teacher and the student. “
The guide certainly can help to mollify our reactions to circumstances; can give us new perspectives, better tools, inspiration, good guidance, and the continuous blessings of his knowledge and his power, developed through his efforts, meditations, prayers, and the blessings of his Shuyukh. But, for the radical change that is necessary for the transformation from sleep to wakefulness, from illness to health, from fear to courage, from doubt to belief, from otherness and blame to selfness and responsibility, it requires totally sincere, practical effort and an active, participatory life in the good works of society, and of the Order, and of the enterprises of the Sheikh, with more than equal attention to inner development, prayer, meditation, service, and community responsibility. It requires that attitude of nebi Muhammad and openness for the fayat (divine energy) to flow over our hearts, as it did with Rasulallah (sal). Obviously, to achieve this it requires a unique individual with a burning desire to achieve a deep level of spiritual awakening.
By looking at Nebi Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu alayhi wa sallam), we see the best example an awakened individual, of someone living the attributes of Allah, with a deep awareness of His nearness to Allah. In a Hadith Qudsi, Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa) said,
…My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him, I am the ears with which he hears, the eyes with which he sees, the hands with which he strikes, and the feet with which he walks.
We see this most clearly in Nebi Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu alayhi wa sallam). The Prophet was a conduit for the attributes of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa tacaalaa) as they are expressed in Allah’s creation. From his light and life we learn to live in the realm of possibilities not just linear probabilities.
To the Sufi, as with the Prophet (sal), all circumstances are essential for developing the qualities necessary to attain higher goals. After all, what is the Divine intention behind creation/life as far as we can understand? Is it not to develop the highest potential in human beings; to realize their divine origin? Is it not the reality of ‘understanding’ the Names of Allah? Yet, since the names are endless, one needs to focus on the lata’if as a means of developing the natural vision or perception from within themselves.
This prescription is progressive and builds inner and outer health and well being. Just as the revelations to Rasul’llah were progressive and timely and build his inner and outer strength and well being. To take the daily outer activities and attribute spiritual significance to them is desirable; it is desirable to weave the outer and the inner aspects of life together. Certainly, the interactions with others in the workplace, the home, or social realms are always opportunities for affirming the Divine names and the Divine attributes; what I refer to as Universal spiritual values…i.e. compassion, tolerance, perseverance, patience etc. They are always an opportunity for refining one’s own self, seeing one’s weaknesses, and developing compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and patience.
As one advances on the spiritual journey, the truth is revealed about our real state and place: Man ‘arafa nafsu faqad ‘arafa Rabbah[i] “Whosoever knows his self, knows Allah;” the result is automatic: the more one develops a detachment from physical ailments and previous mental fears, the more one is free.
Affirming Unity in Diversity
As we come to know our self better, we see that we are both unique and alike in our state and our challenges. We must know the right approach to the problems and challenges of life. Ibn Araby wrote,
The Divine relationships are diverse only because of the diversity of the states. So there is a remedy for each state… The ill person calls out, “O Cure-Giver! O Healer!” Another one who is hungry calls out, “O Provider!” Another who is drowning calls out, “O Helper!”
These ‘differences’ illustrate the Mercy of the diversity within the Unity that is Allah (swt). The Prophet himself said,
The differences among my followers are a mercy.
This tolerance for diversity amidst unity is the core of the love of the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu alayhi wa sallam). Everything in Creation is a reflection of what is found throughout it, not only the Universes but also a reflection of the essential attributes and relationships within the dynamic reality (Allah swt). Therefore, we can posit that there is relatedness (nisbat) between the names/attributes that are describing Allah (swt) to His Creation/creatures.
Just as we realize that Allah (swt) responds appropriately to circumstances depending on the circumstance or individual; even differently to the same circumstance at different times or in different individuals, so too we see the same thing reflected in nature and especially human communication. It is precisely these parallel characteristics that affirm the continuity and coherence and balance; that affirm the verity, the absolute Truth of the Creator, of Islam.
Striving to ‘overcome’ differences it does not mean to end them, but to incorporate them into our understanding and thinking. Indeed in diversity we find commonality. Take for example, animal behavior. As I prepared this lecture I was watching a woodchuck outside my window. He was no more than 10 feet from me; if I open the window to speak to him, to tell him how beautiful he / she is, he will run. But I sit and watch and marvel at his beauty and attentiveness. The longer I look the more I see, the more I feel relatedness to him/her. He/She stands on his haunches…arms folded , small beard coming from his cheeks like ‘mutton chops’ of the 1700’s. He looks calmly, turning left then right, peaceful… I am relating to him by my human characteristics and values.
When we naturally see such things, reflect upon them:
Allah makes clear the signs to you in order that you might reflect
‘inna fi dhalika la-ayatil-li-qowminy-ya’qilun
‘…Surely in that are Signs for a people who use their intellect…’ Qur’an 13:04
Success Come to Those who Make Sincere Effort
In conclusion, let me speak to the importance of sincere effort in awakening our hearts and reframing our thoughts. If you can awaken your heart, you will find that in your heart, you are standing in the presence of the Prophet (sal); of the Auliya, of the ‘changer of hearts’. In your heart, you are standing in the presence of the abdals, (deputies of Allah), you are standing in the presence of the Shuyukh. You will be strengthened and you will be liberated. By concentrated focus and meditation on the heart, and then the other lat’aif, under the proper direction, one becomes attuned to the subtleties of the light and its diverse manifestations in the outer realms and in the inner realms. And progress is made quickly. There is no replacement for reframing one’s mind through the verification of the hearts’ submission. There is no replacement for reframing one’s heart through the turning of attention (Main mutawajjeh Qalb ki taraf, Qalb mutawajjeh hay zat pak ki taraf).
“Reframing” in this context, means not only putting things that happen in a positive form, and approaching them in a positive way, but also requiring that they are consistent with the mizan harmony of the inner and outer worlds/ systems. There is no place better to do this than in meditation, association, and accompaniment with love (mayyiat-i-hubb) with the Sheikh. There is no better effort than respect and trust, service and practice, and more practice. I will leave it to another talk or private conversation what that really entails; suffice it to say that the key is love and our subject today really is about being open to develop love, reflect the light of love, and receive it in return.
There is no better resonance than the heart of the Beloved, to be entered into in prayer and meditation, so attend to yourself. Be attentive to the guides. In the mid fourteenth century A.D. Khwaja Allaudin Attar, was asked the question, “Can one give up things by one’s own will?” He replied:
It is desirable that there should be a guide with the spirit of Mohammed in him, so that the heart can lose its own existence in the existence of the guide.
The great teachers have said that success comes only to those who make sincere effort. My beloved guide, Hazrat Azad Rasool, spoke constantly about sincere effort and progress. The help that a teacher can give is dependent upon the readiness of the student to obey the instructions that he or she is given. Without zealous work, the deeper meanings will never be found. The accomplished man or woman that is guiding can only influence a pupil for a few days at a time. There is a saying: “Perseverance cannot be given.”
Khwaja Allaudin said,
When we took part in the groups of Khwaja Bahaudin Naqshband, we tried to hold on to remembering our aim from morning to night. Nevertheless, among all the companions, there were very few who were capable of holding on for one day until nightfall.
What does this do to you when you hear this? Does it inspire you, or does it give you an excuse to remain distant from yourself? Love alone is the key to inspiration and freedom, effort and progress, studentship, and mayy’iat (accompaniment). It is effort that is going to make the difference.
There is no way, without putting our spiritual life first and working at it, that we can escape the fear of change and the anxiety that we all have. There is no way, without doing this, that we can get beyond the negative and destructive history that fashioned our character and life circumstances, and our lack of self-esteem and self-confidence, or it’s reciprocal: arrogance. Fear and arrogance are the same: a lack of ability to be secure in one’s self. I do not think there is anyone in this room who does not have a spark to ignite the fire of realization; bi ithni ‘llah.
And as we fan that small spark, it is the light of Rasullah that will grown in our hears and our lives. As we free ourselves from fear and arrogance, we will be more and more open to the Prophet (sal), who Allah tells us in Qu’an, is our light:
“O Prophet! Truly We have sent you as a Witness, a Bearer of glad tidings, and a Warner, and as one who invites to Allah by His leave, and as a Lamp spreading Light.” (33:45- 46)
nadheeraa. Wa daaciyan ilaa-Llaahi bi’idhnihi wa siraajam-muneeraa.
[i]As reported from Ibn al- Sam’ani’s Qawa’id fi Usul al-Fiqh by al-Zarkashi in al-Tadhkira (p. 129), al-Suyuti in the Durar (p. 258 §420) and in the fatwa entitled al-Qawl al-Ashbah fi Hadithi Man ‘Arafa Nafsahu fa-qad ‘Arafa Rabbah in his Hawi lil-Fatawi (2:412) as well as al-Sakhawi in the Maqasid and al-Haytami in his Fatawa Hadithiyya (p. 289).
Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid was invited to speak at the Islamic Center in Richmond, Virginia, on March15, 2009.
THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD: THE UNIFYING VOICE OF ISLAM
Praise be to Allah, the Turner of the hearts and sight.
O Allah, fix our hearts on the best of Your ways,
and make us face You in our way, and bestow blessings on the beloved intercessor,
the mercy of all the worlds, the lighthouse of the survivors, the harbor of the knowers.
La ‘ilaha ‘il-Allaahu, Muhammadan Rasulullah. There is none worthy of worship except Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa), and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. Surely he is the best of those created by Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa).
The opportunity to speak on the life and example of of Nebi Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is an opportunity to place the Prophet’s love of Allah(Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa) and his subsequent role as Messenger to humanity in the right perspective. The perspective of “NOW”. The Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) plays a role in our day-to-day existence as a model for life. More than this, he is a metaphor for the love of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa)-and for love itself.
Human beings today, especially in the Westernized world, (which I remind you is everywhere, not just in the West) hold such fragmented perspectives that even the subject of love has become compartmentalized. It has come to connote primarily physical relationships and love of objects. But it must also be understood as eshq and the accompanying ecstasy (wajd) that provides a seamless awareness and consciousness of swimming in the ocean of Rahmat that is Allah, that is Al Haqq.
Contrasts of Love (Eshq) and Yearning (Himma)
Each day, our worldly lives confront us with the contrasts between the reality of dunya, and the reality within the deep recesses of qalb: in the world of love and total submission. Life is filled with vicissitudes, with alternating experiences of nearness and distance from Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa), from Nebi Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and from one another. The challenges and demands of love, the surrender and trust of love, are often all too intertwined.
What is this eshq, thislove? It comes from the word ashiq: to love passionately; to be loved passionately. It also implies a seamless connection. It has no beginning, no ending. It is only the Love of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa).
The lover and the beloved are drawn together in their himma (ardor, eagerness, and yearning) for one another. We all know this Love.
Himma is a yearning that is disquieting. It preoccupies the lover. So, too, it suggests an element of distress. Grief, worry, even affliction: all are part of himma. This himma-this affliction of love (eshq)-has two sides, as we see in the life of the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). On the one hand are the anxieties of life. Yet, amidst these anxieties can be found magnanimity, heroism, gallantry (humam); solicitude, care, and attentiveness (ihtimam); the gentle lulling of a baby to sleep with a lullaby (tahmeema). In himma, we begin to understand the seeds of love that were planted in the soil of our souls long ago, to be grown to their maximum potential in the light, the Nur-i-Muhammad.
The himma that rises in our hearts, that turns our lives around, is a metaphor for unity (tawhid). Tawhid is the reality (and the only reality) that is Islam: this seamlessness of passion and love.
Unity: The Basis of Islam
Tawhid is the basis of Islam, the Unity that is Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa) the thread that unites all the seemingly disparate aspects of our lives.
Outwardly, tawhid manifests in community (ummah). Consider the many forces that serve to unify people within Islam. All believers are called to bear witness to one Truth, al Haqq. All are held responsible for the same burden: the khalifat for which Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa) created us. All are mandated to care for one another, as the Prophet instructed us:
God loves those who love His creatures, and who, for the love of Allah, disperse His wealth; who, though longing for it themselves… Wa yut.’imuuna-t.-t.a’aama ‘alaa h.ubbihii miskiinanw-wa yatiimanw-wa ‘asiiraa; ‘innamaa nut.’imukum li-wajhi-l-laahi laa nuriidu minkum jazaaa’anw-wa-wa laa shukuuraa.
…bestow their food on the poor, the orphans, the needy and captives; who feed you for the sake of Allah and seek from you neither recompense nor thanks. (76:8-9).
Finally, all believers are enjoined to be a unified community, functioning as a cohesive whole for the good of humanity.
And hold fast all together by the rope Allah stretches out to you, and be divided not among yourselves. And remember with gratitude Allah’s favor on you, for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace you became brothers…(3:103).
Waltakum-minkum ‘Ummatun-y-yad’uuna ‘ilaal-khayri wa ya’muruuna bil-ma’ruufi wa yanhawna ‘ani-l-munkar: wa’uulaaa’ika humu-l-muuflih.uun.
And let there be of you an ummah to call to the good, to enjoin virtue and forbid vice. Those who do so are the felicitous (3:104).
As Muslims, we see tawhid as a fundamental principle; “creating unity” is therefore an oxymoron. Fragmentation and disunity are more apparent than real. Unity always underlies our diversity. Without the foundation of tawhid, without the sense of community, without diversity in unity, there could be no Islam.
Yet, Muslim societies today are fraught with schisms. Fear and contractiveness characterize much of the communication among our brothers and sisters. One need spend only a short time on the Internet to come across dialogues turned into diatribe. The sweet, subtle melody of the love of Nebi Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is lost under a cacophony of takfir.
How far we have come from the himma of the lover for the beloved! How distant we are from the seamless, ceaseless exchange of love (hubb) between the Lord (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa) and his Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and between the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and his Lord (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa).
Nurturing the Seeds (Habbaa) of Love (Hubb)
Let us look again at the word hubb, and how comprehensive it is.
Hubba means to love, to evoke affection, amicability. Habeeba means beloved, sweetheart. Related words include habaab (aim, goal); muhabbab (agreeable, pleasant, desirable); and tahabub (mutual love, concord, harmony). Mahabba is the love that rises up in the heart. Ahabba describes the state of the camel who kneels down and refuses to stand up again. Such is the determination of the lover, who will not budge from the state of love.
From the same root comes the word habbaa, meaning “seeds.” In the thirty-third ayat of Sura Ya Seen, we read,
Wa ‘Aayatul-lahumu-l-‘ard.u-l-maytah: ‘ah.yaynaahaa wa ‘akhrajnaa minhaa h.abban faminhu ya’kuluun.
And the sign to them is the lifeless earth in winter. We give it life and bring forth from it seeds so that from it, they may eat of it (36:33).
The seeds, the habbaa, arepotential, waiting to be realized. The potential comes to fruition when the seeds break out of their shells and emerge in a new state, in which they re-create their own seeds. The dynamic of life repeats through the power of hubb. This is the story of the lover and the beloved, the story of the lovers of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa), the story of the lovers of Nebi Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).
The story begins in the seed of love within our hearts. The dead earth is a heart that is not awakened. What nourishes the heart? Love. Not just selfish love, but mutual love, as in the Hubb of the Prophet Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) towards Allah (Subh.aanahu wa tacaalaa), and of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’aalaa) towards the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). Not love focused solely on one’s own well-being, but love that encompasses everyone, as did the love of Nebi Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).
A Model of Kindliness, Compassion, and Tolerance
How aware are we of the limitless ability of the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to love and respect others, without distinction of race or creed?
Following the Battle of Badr, a Meccan by the name of ‘Umayr ibn Wahb of the Quraysh came to Medina, intent upon killing the Prophet. As he approached the mosque where the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was, Umar ibn Khattab (radiy Allahu Ta’aalaa anhu) took note of his sword and moved to stop him. But the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) called to Umar to let the man enter. Inviting Umayr to sit near him, he began to speak to the would-be assassin. He talked to ‘Umayr with great affection, kindness, and sweetness. Then, he recounted in exact detail the assassination plot that he and an accomplice had devised. ‘Umayr was astonished, for they were the only two who had known of their intentions. So impressed was he by the Prophet’s insight and generosity that he accepted Islam. Nebi Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) neither reprimanded nor punished ‘Umayr for having set out to kill him.
What kind of power lies in an individual who could unify enemies and strangers? How many people in the history of humanity has remained a major global force, more that 1400 years after their passing? Clearly, we are discussing a person of strength and courage, gentleness and concern.
Not only in words but in deeds, the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was true to the guidance:
Make things easy, not difficult.
He avoided attending the Taraweeh prayer one night because he did not want to place an undue burden on the believers. He arrived at the mosque, saw the people gathered, and retreated to his quarters, for he realized that if he did the prayer every evening, it would be interpreted as a fard. On another occasion, when Mu’adh (radiy Allahu Ta’aalaa anhu) extended the congregational prayer, the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “O Mu’adh! Are you putting the people on trial?” He repeated this three times, ensuring that Mu’adh understood his disapproval.
He continually guided his sahaba to express care and concern towards all people. A man asked the Holy Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), “O Messenger of Allah! How am I to know whether I did good or bad?” The Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said,
Idhaa sami’ta jiiraanaka yaquuluuna qad ah.santa faqad ah.santa; wa’idhaa sami’tum yaquluuna qad asa’ta faqad asa’ta.
When you hear your neighbors say, “You have done good,” then you have done good; and when you hear them say, “You have done bad,” then you have certainly done bad.
The Holy Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) had so much mercy for others that he was pained whenever he saw anyone in need and thought always of others before himself. In the battle of Uhud, when the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was struck in the face and his teeth were broken, he said:
O, Allah! Forgive my companions for abandoning me. They are ignorant. I remain with them, because I am your servant and slave, in order to illumine their hearts.
If we aspire to be counted among the lovers of Nebi Muhammad (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), then surely we must contemplate, humbly and sincerely, where we stand in the long shadow of the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). How do we act towards our families and neighbors, let alone our enemies? How do we respond when we see others in pain, misery, grief, loss, and disbelief?….
To hear the complete lecture: